Subscriptions to ABS’s 2015-16 Season Now Available

ABS-logo-2012-2013-color-darkgold-72dpiRGB-WEB-ONLYSubscriptions to ABS’s 27th season are now on sale. The 2015-16 season includes three outstanding subscription programs in four Northern California venues featuring cantatas, works for violin, and oratorios by J.S. Bach, Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, and luminous works by Kuhnau and Buxtehude. Subscribers also enjoy first priority for tickets to special events during the season such as Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” in St. Ignacious Church (December 12) and Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral (December 16-18) before they go on sale to the general public on July 1.

To order a subscription to our series in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, or Davis, please visit our website or contact the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900.

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Getting to know Leonardo Leo

Leonardo Leo

Leonardo Leo

Of the three composers on ABS’s next concert program, Leonardo Leo may be the least familiar to concertgoers. Leo (1694-1744) was a Neapolitan composer who enjoyed great success during his lifetime as a composer of comic operas and, later in his life, church music. Though his operas are rarely performed today, Leo’s instrumental and sacred works are periodically performed by early music ensembles and chamber groups. ABS, with Gretchen Claassen as soloist, will perform Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major at Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo (May 1-4).

This concerto is one of six Leo composed for the Duke of Maddonlini between 1734 and 1737. It is a sparkling example of Leo’s status as a transitional figure, wholly at home with Baroque forms and conventions while also showing a talent for the newer, Classical style that was gaining popularity. It is perhaps to the Duke’s credit that we have any cello concertos from Leo at all; the Duke was an amateur cellist of excellent ability and Leo composed the concertos to showcase his patron’s talents. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, another famous Italian musician in the Duke’s employment during the 1730s, wrote his Cello Sonata in G Major and Sinfonia in F Major for him.

Naples

Naples

Leo’s sacred works were held in high esteem during his lifetime and some of them enjoyed longevity after the composer’s death. In 1739 Leo composed his Miserere for two choruses with basso continuo, an impressive example of counterpoint and craftsmanship that persisted in the liturgy well into the late nineteenth-century, especially in the churches of his hometown of Naples. In 1880, the work made an impression on none other than Richard Wagner who was in Naples to finish orchestrating his final opera, Parsifal. After some tedious dealings with an Italian singer, Wagner and his wife Cosima sought to “clear the air” and took a walk to the chapel at the Naples Conservatory to hear Leo’s famous Miserere. In her exhaustive diaries, Cosima Wagner quoted her husband’s reaction: “What an awesomely noble impression the music makes! … This is rare music, which makes everything else look like child’s play.” Cosima went on to document her own reaction to the work, too: “The work (by Leo) rears up like a mighty cathedral, severe in outline, noble and essential, every modulation of tremendous effect, since dictated by the logic of the part writing. The performance suffers because of the pauses the conductor feels impelled to make in the interests of security. But the boys’ voices sound touchingly naïve … we think of Parsifal!”

It is provocative to imagine how Leonardo Leo’s music might have influenced Wagner while he was applying the finishing touches to Parsifal, an opera that features a celestial chorus of children’s voices. So, not only was Leo a progressive Baroque composer whose works anticipate the Classical Era, but his music may also have informed the musical ideals of the high Romantic Era.

If you would like to get to know this fascinating Italian composer a little better, join ABS for Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo, May 1-4. Opportunities to hear the music of this fascinating composer do not come around often; we hope to see you there! Best availability for seating is in Berkeley on May 2, 8:00 p.m.

Gretchen Claassen performs at Soloists Circle Donor Event

ABS Soloists Circle donors gathered on Sunday April 26th at the Napa home of Development Committee member Tom Flesher for a delightful afternoon of wine, camaraderie, and music. Providing the music for this especially congenial gathering were the 2015 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award, Gretchen Claassen, and accompanist Derrick Tam.

Claassen1_DonorEvent

Gretchen Claassen (violoncello) and Derek Tam (piano) performed a program of works by Schumann, Beethoven, and Pergolesi.

On the eve of her performances of Leonardo Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major with ABS at Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo (May 1-4), Claassen offered an engaging program of musical works that spanned three musical styles and eras.Claassen3_DonorEvent The program included Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, Beethoven’s Violoncello Sonata Op. 102, No. 2, and Pergolesi’s Sinfonia in F Major. At the conclusion of the Beethoven sonata, Ms Claassen provided an introduction to the final work on the program, explaining how Pergolesi and Leo both wrote works for the instrument during the 1730s for the same cello-playing patron, Domenico Marzio Caraffa, Duke of Maddaloni. As we are all looking forward to hearing Claassen’s performance of the Leo concerto, it was a special treat to hear her perform a composition that was written for the same musician by another significant Italian composer. For the Pergolesi Sinfonia, Claassen switched to a Baroque bow and gave a splendid performance with lovely, responsive accompaniment by Mr. Tam.

ABS Supporters (left to right) Ruth & Phil Hicks, Thomas & Phyllis Farver

ABS Supporters (left to right) Ruth & Philip Hicks, Thomas & Phyllis Farver

After the recital, guests enjoyed appetizers and wine provided by Delicious! Catering, strolled the grounds, chatted with friends, and took the opportunity to get acquainted with the artists.

For information about becoming a member of the Soloists Circle or making a donation of any kind to ABS, please visit our website or call (415) 621-7900. Thank you for your support!

Tickets for Bach, Vivaldi, & Handel are still available. The program includes Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4, Concerto for Two Violins, and Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (Cantata 168), Vivaldi’s Psalm setting Nisi Dominus for alto solo and strings as well as Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major featuring Gretchen Claassen. We look forward to seeing you there and at our summer festival in August.

Free Master Class with Jeffrey Thomas, May 6 at 1:00 p.m.

Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas

ABS continues its collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Wednesday, May 6 at 1:00 p.m. when ABS Music Director leads a public master class on Baroque performance. The class will take place in the Conservatory’s Recital Hall. Admission is free and no tickets are required.

Jeffrey Thomas is a Bay Area treasure. In addition to the exquisite ABS performances he has directed since co-founding the ensemble in 1989, Maestro Thomas can also be heard as the host of “Sacred Concert” and “Baroque by the Bay” every Sunday morning on KDFC. This master class will be an excellent opportunity to witness a musical master coach some of the Conservatory’s best young musicians.

The free master class is open to the public and begins at 1:00 p.m. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is located at 50 Oak Street, close to BART and MUNI stops. For more information about this and other upcoming free public master classes by the musicians of American Bach Soloists, please visit our website here.

Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo coming up May 1-4

Do you have your tickets for Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo yet? You do not want to miss this program which features vocal and instrumental works by Johann Sebastian Bach and two Italian masters. The concert will showcase the brilliant musicians of ABS as they perform well-known masterpieces along with a few gorgeous works that are worthy of greater fame.

A Trio of Bach Masterpieces

BVLSOLI1Music Director Jeffrey Thomas and the period-instrument specialists of ABS will perform a trio of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, beginning with his beloved Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, with Elizabeth Blumenstock and rising Baroque violinist Cynthia Black performing the solo parts. Black, a recent ABS Academy graduate and featured soloist with leading groups such as Apollo’s Fire, makes her ABS debut with these performances.

Countertenor Ian Howell will be the vocal soloist for Bach’s cantata, Gott soll allein, mein Herze haben, BWV 169 (“God alone shall have my heart”). Bach composed the cantata in Leipzig for the 18th Sunday after Trinity, 1726. The work is for alto soloist and a band of instrumentalists with a prominent role for the organist.

German Baroque composers wrote dozens of works based on the model of the French Ouverture, however there are only four such pieces by Bach that have survived. In recent seasons, ABS has performed the first three of these Suites (C Major, B Minor, and D Major), and now will perform the fourth (D Major, BWV 1069). The layered textures and bold harmonic richness of these works established a lofty standard of sophistication in the genre; you don’t want to miss ABS’s performance of the Orchestral Suite No. 4!

Unforgettable Sacred Work by Vivaldi

BVLSOLI2Bach was heavily influenced by Vivaldi and transcribed the Italian master’s violin works in order to absorb their beautiful and soaring melodies. ABS, with Howell as vocal soloist, will perform Nisi Dominus, a sacred work that Vivaldi originally composed for an extraordinary vocal soloist in his Venetian ensemble at the Ospedale della Pieta. Set to the text of Psalm 127, the extensive nine-movement work traverses a wide range of moods and makes a powerful impact.

An ABS Premiere: Leo’s Violoncello Concerto in A Major

Known for his comic operas and sacred music, Naples-born composer Leonardo Leo also wrote a series of cello concertos during the 1730s while under the patronage of the Duke of Maddaloni, an accomplished cellist. In the ABS premiere of Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major, Gretchen Claassen, the 2015 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award, will be the violoncello soloist. Read our interview with Gretchen Claassen here.

Excellent seats remain for the performances of Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo in Berkeley (May 2, 8:00) and San Francisco (May 3, 4:00 pm) and may be purchased online or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

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Interview with Countertenor Ian Howell

ABS’s next concerts, Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo (May 1-4), will feature countertenor Ian Howell as the vocal soloist in Bach’s cantata, Gott soll allein, mein Herze haben, BWV 169 (“God alone shall have my heart”) and Vivaldi’s psalm setting, Nisi Dominus. Howell is well-known to ABS audiences from triumphs in Handel’s Messiah, his Distinguished Artist recital during the 2012 ABS Festival & Academy, and the ABS recording 1685 & The Art of Ian Howell. We asked Mr. Howell about the upcoming performances and the works he will be singing.

Ian Howell, countertenor

Ian Howell, countertenor

At the May concert, Bach, Vivaldi, & Handel, you will perform two extraordinary works: Bach’s solo cantata Gott soll allein and Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus. Starting with Bach, what draws you to his music?

Bach’s voice is unique, even among his contemporaries. He had the ability to craft complex musical structures that shine with beauty and pathos. I think that his music for alto especially offers a view into the emotional depth we are all capable of (and have always been capable of) experiencing. Bach’s alto arias, liturgically, seem to function as a vehicle for each congregant’s personal experience of the greater theological message. This music isn’t about describing a scene, so much as telling a personal story. “Es its Vollbracht” from the St. John Passion leaps into the present moment, bringing not just the listener to the moment of Christ’s death on the cross, but the scene at the cross into the listener’s modern heart. Similarly, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (God alone shall have my heart) views the idea of grace through a personal lens. Rather than ask for the sins of the world to end, the gorgeous aria Stirb in mir (Die in me) asks that all desire for the sinful world die in the heart of the listener. This is very personal music, almost offering the congregants a ready-made, first person prayer to give to God.

What are the particular artistic challenges and rewards of Gott soll allein?

I think first of all, Bach’s music is challenging for technical reasons. He didn’t write idiomatically for the voice. One gets the sense that he composed at the keyboard where long lines, large leaps, and awkward text underlay were non-issues. However, once that is mastered, the real challenge is to get in a proper theological frame of mind. Far from the emotionally reserved quality of modern Protestantism, Bach’s theology actively engaged people on an emotional and ecstatic level. Bach’s cantatas were the soundtrack to this liturgy, which gives us permission to sing his music quite passionately. Breaking through the façade of propriety is then the second challenge when singing Bach. Gott soll allein presents more opportunities than challenges. For example, the aria, Stirb in mir features an organ obbligato that weaves around the vocal line; or perhaps it is an alto obbligato that weaves around an organ melody. Bach brilliantly uses the organ and voice as a single instrument. At times the organ heightens the affect of the voice with ornaments. At other times the organ executes a large leap, or a fast scale to a pitch out of the alto’s range. This is truly Bach composing his theology: The organ (God’s grace) does what the flawed human cannot, yet remains ever near. Finding the way to perfectly execute this idea is challenging, but makes this one of the most rewarding works to sing in the repertory.

Tell us about Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus. What is it like to sing this “concerto for voice”?

Nisi Dominus could not be more different from Gott soll allein. Vivaldi writes for the voice in a very idiomatic, Italianate style. In a sense, Bach’s cantata features music to draw attention to the experience of the listener. Here, Vivaldi means to draw attention to the singer. Florid passages of coloratura and long lines that require expert breath management are alternately found in each movement. Here the challenge is that all coloratura is not the same. Vivaldi composed this work for a specific singer who’s voice moved in a specific manner. Learning this piece has felt like ironing out wrinkles in a shirt. The result, however, is dazzling.

What do you like to listen to most when you are not studying a role or learning a new work?

I think that I probably listen to Bach’s Trauerode (BWV198) about once a week regardless of what else I’m doing. In all sincerity, I think it is the best piece of music ever composed. I’m on the voice faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music where I teach vocal pedagogy and direct a voice analysis lab. We’ve been doing a lot of research lately that has me listening to Leontyne Price’s recording of Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder, Nellie Melba’s Porgi amor from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and Cecelia Bartoli’s recording of Hai luli by Pauline Viardot. I just love a well-registered female voice; a countertenor can learn a lot about how to sing by listening to top-notch female singers. My wife and I also have a 10 month old at home now, so I’m listening to a lot more Elmo than before.

What are some of your favorite things to do when you visit San Francisco?

I used to live in San Francisco in the early 2000s when I sang with Chanticleer. Our rehearsal space was across from the Mission Dolores Basilica, so my memories of that time taste and smell like a taqueria. If I can make it to Poncho Villa or Taqueria El Toro in the mission for an al pastor burrito with a cup of horchata while in town, I’m a happy guy.

What is it like to work with Jeffrey Thomas?

Jeffrey is one of the best musicians (let alone conductors) I have ever had the chance to work with. I always say that he is a “singer’s conductor,” but I suspect that a violin soloist would think of him as a “violinist’s conductor” and an oboist similarly so. You get the sense that he is always aware of the multi-level quality of this music, and would never let you sing outside the larger goal—be it the pace of harmonic progression, the mood of a scene, the manner in which the chromaticism of a recitative must develop, etc… Yet, he always manages to draw out the best contribution I can make to the whole. His rehearsal process is detailed and deliberate, and I think that the result is an incredibly refined performance. My colleagues and I just love singing and playing with ABS.

Come hear Ian Howell perform at Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo in three Bay Area venues and in Davis, May 1-4. Tickets are available at americanbach.org or by calling the ABS Office at 415-621-7900.

Interview with the 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient, Gretchen Claassen

If you attend live music events around the Bay Area, chances are you have heard Gretchen Claassen perform on either modern or baroque cello. Her musical interests and outstanding musicianship have landed her in ensembles across a broad musical spectrum from Renaissance music to contemporary idioms: classical, avant-garde, and popular. Her enterprising versatility is one of the many attributes that gained her the 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award. Another is that she is a fine performer of remarkable promise within the field of early music performance. Ms. Claassen will be featured during ABS’s next concerts, Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo (May 1-4) as the soloist in Leonardo Leo’s Violoncello Concerto in A Major. We asked her about the Leo concerto and her many musical pursuits.

Gretchen Claassen

Gretchen Claassen

Leonardo Leo is perhaps not as familiar a composer for some ABS concertgoers. What drew you to Leo and the A Major violoncello concerto?

When I first heard this concerto I was immediately struck by the warmth and graciousness of it’s opening and thought I can’t wait to play this! It has a beautiful and dramatic slow movement and the fast movements are quite spirited, offering some delightful interplay between the solo cello and violin. It’s really a very charming piece.

You are a very active musician in the Bay Area and perform in a variety of styles. Would you recount some of the groups you have played with over the past year and what music you have most enjoyed performing?

The past year has been so much fun and filled with new experiences. Some of the highlights include concerts at the Presidio Sessions and Mission Blue with MUSA, a group I co-founded with fellow ABS Academy Alumni, and a month-long American Music Abroad tour to Russia, Hungary, and Serbia with the Cello Street Quartet and singer Matt Alber. Just last month I was involved in the revival of the 1662 Venetian opera La Cleopatra by Castrovillari with Ars Minerva. I also became involved with the conductor-less chamber orchestra One Found Sound and had a chance to play some Ravel and Shostakovich again. And of course one of the highlights of every year for me is playing Messiah with ABS, which was made even more memorable this year with the addition of the recording and video project.

Are there challenges involved with alternating between modern cello and a baroque violoncello?

Yes, and they seem to change all the time! For the first couple of years I was learning baroque cello, I felt I had no idea what might come out of the instrument when I started to play. Everything was up for grabs – intonation, articulation, even how to hold the instrument itself was a mystery. As I practiced, performed and became comfortable with it, I noticed that it was harder and harder to go back to modern cello and feel the old sense of ease. But all that uncertainty proved to be an amazing opportunity to learn and explore on both instruments and I think I’ve grown a lot as a musician because of it.

Gretchen Claassen

Gretchen Claassen

What compositions or composers are you working on now or looking forward to performing next?

I’m playing a little recital of late Beethoven and Schumann soon, so I’m spending some quality time with them right now. In mid-May, I’m really looking forward to a MUSA concert of Telemann “Paris Quartets” paired with a piece we commissioned from talented composer and violinist Andrew McIntosh (an Academy alum) for the same instrumentation. I’m also excited to further delve into the new music world and work on pieces by 7 local composers, commissioned by One Found Sound for their gala in May.

As the 2015 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award, please tell us about your work with Jeffrey Thomas.

I had the good fortune to see Handel’s La resurrezione and Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the first ABS Academy and was so inspired by those performances, I had to apply for the following summer. Working with Jeffrey every morning during recit rehearsals for Handel’s Ariodante gave me a chance to see up close his deep respect and reverence for both music and text, as well as the intelligence he brings to the work. I’ve jumped at every opportunity to play for him, and with all the amazing musicians at ABS, since then.

You can hear Gretchen Claassen, Jeffrey Thomas, and all of the musicians of ABS at Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo from May 1-4 in three Bay Area venues and also in Davis. Tickets are available online or by calling the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900.

Support ABS and Win a Trip to Maui

Beginning with our next concert, Bach, Vivaldi & Leo (May 1-4), you will have the chance to win a trip to Maui through ABS’s annual raffle. Raffle tickets will be sold at each of the concerts for $20 each or 6 tickets for $100. Tickets will continue to be available throughout the summer and during the ABS Festival & Academy (August 7-16) with the grand prize drawing scheduled for Sunday, August 16, after the closing performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

 

ABS Day at AT&T Park, July 10 – A Few Tickets Left!

Giants_ABS

The Major League Baseball season opens today! Though the SF Giants are on the road  to play the Arizona Diamondbacks, their path will intersect with ABS in a few months for American Bach Soloists Day at AT&T Park. Join ABS musicians, staff, and supporters on July 10 as we gather together in the Exclusive Club Level 231 to watch the Giants take on the Philadelphia Phillies. Ticket holders for the event are invited to a special “Orange Friday” happy hour on Seals Plaza before the game (5:00-7:00) and will also enjoy access to the private Club Concourse section during the game. Located directly behind the reserved “ABS section” seats, the Club Concourse has waiter service, carving stations, an upscale bar, and first access to Lot A parking.

Tickets for “ABS Day at AT&T Park” including happy hour, the Giants game, and an evening of fun with ABS are only $89. Few tickets remain, so call the ABS office today: (415) 621-7900.

ABS Sparkles in September: Annual Gala Moves to San Francisco

ABS Gala Sprakle

The annual Gala Dinner, Auction, and Concert of American Bach Soloists will take place on Saturday, September 26, at San Francisco’s historic James Leary Flood Mansion in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. This year’s event is titled Sparkle, a fitting theme for what promises to be an elegant affair celebrating ABS, the early music jewel of the Bay Area, and held for the first time in San Francisco.

Honorary chair, The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus (Bishop of California), Maestro Jeffrey Thomas, the musicians, board, and staff of American Bach Soloists, invite you join us for Sparkle, an evening of grand auction items, glittering environs, and enchanting music. All proceeds benefit the artistic and educational programs of ABS.

Save the Date: September 26, 2016

Tickets for Sparkle are now available online or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

New ABS Season Announced!

If you joined us for St. Matthew Passion last month, you received a sneak peek into ABS’s 2015-16 season. Well, the full season has just been announced and it is a good one … make that a GREAT one! Outstanding concert programs and an exciting roster of artists make this one of ABS’s best seasons yet. Current ABS subscribers may renew their current seats for the new season anytime through April 24 and new subscriptions go on sale May 1. Single tickets for all 2015-16 events will go on sale July 1. Remember: subscribers enjoy the best seats at the lowest prices. Without further ado, lets take a look at what the 2015-16 ABS season will bring!

December special events

St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco

St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco

Bach lovers rejoice because the ABS concert season will open on December 12 with Johann Sebastian Bach’s vast and inspiring “Christmas Oratorio.” Last presented by ABS in 2008, this festive work contains elements of three secular cantatas and an otherwise lost church cantata that Bach synthesized into a single, unified musical expression of the Christmas story. ABS will present Bach’s grand work in its entirety within San Francisco’s historic Saint Ignatius Church. The “Christmas Oratorio” will also be performed on December 13 at the Robert & Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis.

ABS in Grace Cathedral by Ken Howard

ABS in Grace Cathedral.

Every December, ABS’s presentations of Messiah in Grace Cathedral bring together Handel’s timeless score, the outstanding performances of ABS, and one of San Francisco’s most breathtaking settings in an indelible Bay Area experience. Jeffrey Thomas will direct the renowned period-instrument orchestra, the American Bach Choir, and vocal soloists soprano Hélène Brunet, alto Agnes Vojtko, tenor Kyle Stegall, and baritone Jesse Blumberg in three unforgettable performances December 16, 17, & 18.

 

27th Subscription series concerts

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova

The new subscription series opens January 22-25, 2016 with “Bach Favorites,” a program displaying the composer’s genius in a variety of settings. Maestro Thomas leads his ABS forces in two brilliant cantatas, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”), a work best known for the beloved chorale setting, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!, BWV 70 (“Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!”), a bold setting of a text about the Day of Judgment. Soprano Mary Wilson, tenor Derek Chester, and baritone Mischa Bouvier will join the ensemble as vocal soloists. Violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, the 2016 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award, will be featured in a pair of thrilling instrumental works. Exhibiting the dazzling technique and bravura style that have made her one of today’s most exciting new Baroque violinists, Chulochnikova will perform her own transcription for solo violin of Bach’s organ Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and the Concerto for Violin in E Major [Read more about Tatiana Chulochnikova receiving the award and performing at last year’s ABS Gala].

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

From February 26-29, 2016, Maestro Thomas leads an all-out Handelian celebration with the presentation of Alexander’s Feast. Based on a poem by John Dryden, subtitled “The Power of Music,” Handel’s ode recounts a banquet held for Alexander the Great in the conquered city of Persepolis at which the musician Timotheus moves the military commander through a course of emotions until he is compelled to seek revenge for his perished Greek soldiers. Avoiding operatic conventions such as da capo arias, Handel’s richly scored setting expresses the narrative in a direct manner that is, at times, surprising in its intensity. This evening-length work of some of the composer’s most ambitious and glorious choral music will feature the acclaimed American Bach Choir and an outstanding trio of vocal soloists: soprano Anna Gorbachyova in her ABS debut, tenor Aaron Sheehan [Read more about Mr. Sheehan’s 2015 GRAMMY win for “Best Opera Recording”], and baritone William Sharp. Following Handel’s tradition of inserting instrumental concertos between the work’s different parts, ABS will perform his Concerto Grosso in C Major and Harp Concerto in B Flat Major.

American Bach Soloists. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

American Bach Soloists. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Concluding the subscription season on a festive note, ABS performs celebratory works by Bach, Kuhnau, and Buxtehude from April 22-25, 2016. Bach composed impressive oratorios for three important occasions of the Lutheran calendar: Christmas, Easter, and the Feast of the Ascension. Completing the trilogy begun in December (see “Christmas Oratorio” above), ABS will perform the composer’s exuberant “Easter Oratorio” and “Ascension Oratorio” with vocal soloists soprano Clara Rottsolk, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Zachary Wilder, and bass Joshua Copeland. Pulling out all the stops for these jubilant works—trumpets, timpani, flutes, oboes, recorders, strings, and voices—Bach composed joyful, extroverted music, tempered by exquisite moments of reflective calm. Along with these masterworks from Bach’s mature years in Leipzig, Thomas and ABS will perform an Ascension cantata by Bach’s predecessor Johann Kuhnau and Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn (“Today God’s Son triumphs”), a work for Easter by one of Bach’s important musical influences, Dieterich Buxtehude.

2015-16 ABS Season

December 12-13 – Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”
December 16-18 – Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral
January 22-25 – Bach Favorites
February 26-29 – Alexander’s Feast
April 22-25 – Easter & Ascension Oratorios

It’s going to be a great season!

Bach Birthday Celebration!

On the evening of March 20, supporters of ABS joined the board of directors, staff, and Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas at the General’s Residence in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center to raise a glass and toast the ensemble on the occasion of its namesake’s 330th birthday (Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, March 21, 1685). With spectacular views of the marina and Alcatraz, the revelers also enjoyed fine wines, some tasty edibles by Delicious! Catering, and a screening of the new video installation project Bach’s Mass in B Minor: Anatomy of a Masterwork in this special fundraising event for ABS.

Anthony Newman and Joshua Romatowski

Anthony Newman and Joshua Romatowski

Following the party, the Bach Birthday Celebration continued over at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church where renowned Bach interpreter Anthony Newman was presented in a recital program featuring works by J.S. Bach, Handel, and his own compositions. Exhibiting his legendary facility throughout the evening, Newman gave an exhilarating performance. To close the first half of the harpsichord portion of the recital he was joined by ABS flutist Joshua Romatowski in Bach’s Sonata in E-Flat Major for Flute and Harpsichord, BWV 1031.

ABS Flutist Joshua Romatowski meets fans during intermission.

Joshua Romatowski meets fans during intermission.

For the second half, Mr. Newman made his way upstairs and finished the performance at the organ bench playing St. Mark’s splendid instrument. He performed his own Grand Intrada and Triple Fugue in C for Organ and Fantastia in E Major along with Bach’s Toccata in C Major, Alle Menschen müßen, and closed with a rousing performance of Bach’s Fugue in C Minor.

Thank you to everyone who came out to support ABS at this memorable event … and happy birthday, J.S. Bach!

Anthony Newman, after performing organ recital.

Anthony Newman.

Free Master Class with Jeffrey Thomas, March 16

Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas

ABS continues its collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Monday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. when ABS Music Director leads a public master class on Baroque performance. The master class will take place in the Conservatory’s Recital Hall. Admission is free and no tickets are required.

Jeffrey Thomas is a Bay Area treasure. In addition to the exquisite ABS performances he has directed since co-founding the ensemble in 1989, Maestro Thomas can also be heard as the host of “Sacred Concert” and “Baroque by the Bay” every Sunday morning on KDFC. This master class will be an excellent opportunity to witness a musical master coach some of the Conservatory’s best young musicians.

The free master class is open to the public and begins at 7:30 pm. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is located at 50 Oak Street, close to BART and MUNI stops. For more information about this and other upcoming free public master classes by the musicians of American Bach Soloists, please visit our website here.

Anthony Newman: A Vinyl Tribute

Since he burst onto the scene in 1967, Anthony Newman has been a commanding and, at times, iconoclastic performer of the music of J.S. Bach. His extraordinary discography spans several decades and includes hundreds of recordings, many of them highly influential best-sellers. As Newman is one of the most prolific early music artists of the LP era (long-playing records), we selected a few of his albums with imaginative designs to display in the “vinyl tribute” below. As great as the records are, don’t miss the chance to hear him perform live on March 20 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco when ABS celebrates Bach’s Birthday.

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Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 (1974, Columbia M2 32875)

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J.S. Bach: The Goldberg Variations (Columbia M 30538)

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Bach: Newman (Columbia MS 7421)

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Music for Organ: J.S. Bach, Franck, Liszt, Dandrieu (1972, Columbia M 31127)

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J.S. Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; Italian Concerto; Haydn: Sonata No. 33; Newman: Chimeras I & II (Columbia M 30062)

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J.S. Bach: Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, “St. Anne” and Others (Quadraphonic QTV-S 34656)

And for something a little different…

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Organ Orgy (A Wagner Sound Spectacular) (1975, Columbia M 33268)

TICKETS FOR BACH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
$250 (includes party, donation to ABS, and concert)

TICKETS FOR ANTHONY NEWMAN CONCERT
$15 – $50

Tickets to hear this legendary artist perform Bach on harpsichord and organ right here in San Francisco are still available, but they won’t last long. Get your tickets today!

ABS Celebrates Bach’s Birthday, March 20

ABS celebrates its namesake on March 20 with a fabulous evening of music and fun. Beginning at 5:00 p.m. at San Francisco’s historic General’s Residence in the Fort Mason Center, we welcome friends and supporters of ABS to enjoy food, wine, and the spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Please join us in toasting the one and only J.S. Bach while also supporting ABS!

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View from the General’s Residence at the Fort Mason Center

The occasion will also mark the premiere of ABS’s video installation Bach’s Mass in B Minor: Anatomy of a Masterwork. Chronicling the annual performances of the Mass at the ABS Festival & Academy, the project explores the work’s colossal dimensions and encyclopedic stylistic variety through the expertise of ABS musicians Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Debra Nagy, Steven Lehning, John Thiessen, and others as they work with Academy participants to perform the Mass.

Following the party, guests will attend a special, one-night-only concert with renowned harpsichordist and organist Anthony Newman at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at 8:00 p.m. Mr. Newman will perform one half of the program from the harpsichord, joined on Bach’s Sonata in E-Flat Major for Flute and Harpsichord by ABS musician and Academy alum flutist Joshua Romatowski. For the second half of the concert, Mr. Newman will perform an organ recital on St. Mark’s magnificent instrument. This rare opportunity to hear an early music legend right here in San Francisco is available to ABS’s great supporters as part of this extraordinary celebration of Bach.

Anthony Newman, harpsichord & organ

Anthony Newman, harpsichord & organ

Please join us for the celebration! VIP tickets for the event are $250, and remember: $150 of that price is a tax-deductible donation to ABS. If you would like to attend only the concert portion of the celebration, tickets ($15-$50) are available online or by calling the ABS office at (415) 621-7900.

Tickets for 6th Annual ABS Festival & Academy now on Sale

2015 Festival DatesTickets for the 6th annual American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy are now on sale. The theme for the 2015 Festival, August 7-16, is Versailles & The Parisian Baroque, and it will feature concerts, lectures, and colloquia that celebrate Bach’s French contemporaries and the splendid music of the extravagant court at Versailles.

The Festival opens with a two-part program celebrating Versailles & The Parisian Baroque, August 7-8. For Part I, Director Jeffrey Thomas leads ABS In a trio of stunning orchestral works by three French Masters. The high-minded musical ideals and splendor of the era are fully evident in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Ouverture & Suite of dances from his opera Naïs. Here beauty and grandeur are enhanced by a third trait: velocity! As first violinist at the Paris Opéra, Jacques Aubert had an ear for music suitable for drama and dance. His D Major Concert de Symphonie, an early incarnation of what would become the French symphony, is a delightful, foot-tapping tour of dance forms. Finally, Jean-Féry Rebel’s imaginative and vivid work for orchestra, Les élémens, depicts the creation of the world from chaos using motifs associated with earth, air, fire, and water.

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann

From the grand to the intimate, ABS continues its exploration of the Parisian Baroque on August 8 with a look into the era’s drawing rooms, private halls, and the Royal residence at Versailles, for a sampling of exquisite works by Marin Marais, François Couperin, André Campra, and Quirinus van Blankenburg, a Dutchman who felt it necessary to compose an answer to Campra’s Les Femmes. The elegance, refinement, mirth, and poignancy that were all hallmarks of the Parisian Baroque will be presented.

Bach’s Mass in B Minor is the pinnacle of the Baroque repertory and ABS’s annual Festival performances draw Bach pilgrims to San Francisco from around the world. Jeffrey Thomas and the ABS Festival Orchestra, with vocal and instrumental soloists from the ABS Academy, perform the masterwork on each Sunday during the Festival, August 9 & 16.

August 10-12 are set aside for the outrageously talent Academy participants who come from around the world to study and perform with the musicians of ABS. These popularly priced Academy-in-Action concerts (only $10!) are great for taking in a bevy of musical delights–both well known and obscure­–performed by the future leaders of the art form. Say you heard them when; come to AIA!

Marin Marias

Marin Marias

Buy your tickets for August 14 today, because they won’t last. On that Friday evening Jeffrey Thomas will direct the first complete performance outside of Europe of Marais’s 1709 opera, Sémélé. Utilizing soloists from the ABS Academy and the Festival Orchestra, this gem from the golden era of musical Paris will return to the stage in glory right here in San Francisco.

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen will be the featured performer in the annual Distinguished Artist Series concert on August 15. Performing a diverse program of Italian chamber music and cantatas, English music for the theater, and oratorio, John Thiessen will demonstrate his instrumental mastery in an astonishing variety of styles and settings in music by Corelli, Jeremiah Clarke, Handel, and Alessandro Scarlatti. For this special recital, members of ABS and guest soloists, including soprano Kathryn Mueller, will join Thiessen.

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen

The Festival concludes on August 16 with a matinee performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor by The ABS Academy Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Thomas. Book your tickets early!

 FESTIVAL SCHEDULE & TICKETS

For more information, visit our website or call the ABS office at {415) 621-7900.

St. Matthew Passion is SOLD OUT

Here at ABS, we are all so excited about this weekend’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It is great to know that our fans and patrons are pretty excited about it, too – all four performances from February 27-March 2 are completely sold out.

Thank you all for your support!

Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Next Up: Don’t miss our Bach Birthday Celebration on March 20. Great seats are available for this special event and concert with harpsichordist / organist Anthony Newman. For More information, visit americanbach.org.

Free Master Class with tenor Derek Chester, February 23

Derek Chester

Derek Chester

In collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, ABS presents a series of public master classes during each concert season. On February 23, tenor Derek Chester will coach a group of SF Conservatory singers in vocal repertory and interpretation. The master class will take place in the Conservatory’s Recital Hall. Admission is free and no tickets are required.

Derek Chester is a frequent ABS collaborator and has performed the music of Monteverdi, Kuhnau, and Bach with the ensemble regularly since his debut in 2008. Acclaimed for his performances of Bach, Chester will sing the role of the Evangelist in ABS’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, February 27-March 2. Along with his duties as assistant professor of voice at the University of Northern Colorado, he tours the country and further abroad as a featured soloists (read about the trip he made last summer to sing Bach in Leipzig).

The February 23 master class is free, open to the public, and begins at 7:30 pm. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is located at 50 Oak Street, close to BART and MUNI stops. For more information about this and other upcoming free public master classes by the musicians of American Bach Soloists, please visit our website here.

Violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova Named 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award Recipient

ABS is pleased to announce that violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova is the recipient of the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award. Splitting her time between Washington, DC, New York City, and San Francisco, Chulochnikova is a talented and enterprising artist who has performed with many of the nation’s leading Baroque ensembles. Her thrilling technique and bravura style have dazzled audiences around the country and across continents.

Born in Ukraine, Chulochnikova began playing violin at the age of 7 and made her professional debut at 14 playing Bruch’s violin concerto with the Kharkov Philharmonic. Around the same time, her own Trio for violin, flute, and cello was awarded Second Prize at the International Young Composers Competition in Kiev. Chulochnikova received her professional training at the Tchaikovsky College of Music and Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. She was first introduced to historically informed performance practice at the Conservatory where she quickly developed a passion for the early music repertory. Her interest in the Baroque brought her to the United States where she continued her studies under the direction of Marilyn McDonald at the Oberlin Conservatory.

She attended the 2010 ABS Academy and has performed with renowned Baroque orchestras including ABS, Tafelmusik, and Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra. In 2012 she completed her studies at the Juilliard School under Monica Huggett and Cynthia Roberts and continues to perform both as a soloist and within ensembles including Four Nations Ensemble and The Rubinstein Players. Most recently she was featured in the ABS 2014 gala “A Red Carpet Evening” where she premiered her own violin transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. This season she also is performing as concertmistress and as a soloist with the Symphony Orchestra of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music as well as leading the Washington Bach Consort in their Cantata Series at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C.

Founded in 2013 to recognize and encourage young leaders within the early music community, The Jeffrey Thomas Award is given annually to a musician of unusual promise and precocious achievement. Selected by Thomas, winners are awarded a cash prize and invited to perform with ABS. Past recipients of the Award include tenor Guy Cutting (2014) and violoncellist Gretchen Claassen (2015). As the winner of the 3rd annual award, Ms. Chulochnikova will perform in ABS’s 2016 season as a soloist in works by J.S. Bach.

ABS Oboist Debra Nagy Discusses Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

I hope you already have your tickets for ABS’s performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, February 27-March 2 as they are going fast (March 1 & 2 are already SOLD OUT)! ABS oboist Debra Nagy will play oboe, oboe d’amore, & oboe da caccia in all four performances. She will also present the pre-concert lectures in advance of each performance. We asked Debra about her experiences performing this masterpiece with ABS and the discoveries each encounter brings:

Debra Nagy, oboe

Debra Nagy, oboe

What are the challenges and thrills of performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion?

Playing the St. Matthew Passion as first oboe in the first orchestra is a singular challenge. As crazy as it sounds, I liken it to running a marathon—you have to be in great shape, and you also have to pace yourself over the course of the nearly three hours. It’s an emotionally heart-rending piece to perform, and it’s actually a rather difficult task to keep the focus that’s required to perform at your best as the emotions swirl around you in arias like “O Süßes Kreuz,” “Können Thränen,” or “Geduld” (you can tell I’m drawn to the really tortured ones!). Add to that the frequent “dives for the carpet” (the many fast instrument switches from oboe to oboe d’amore to oboe da caccia and back again), and you can start to understand the challenges!

Playing St. Matthew is a big challenge, but also extremely rewarding. You’re exhausted afterwards but also so inspired by the journey through the work and through the narrative. Because of the double choir/orchestra structure, I’m also always struck by the various symmetries in the work and never fail to notice something new and interesting.

 What is it like performing this work with ABS under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas?

I think this is perhaps my 3rd time doing this work with Jeffrey. As always, Jeffrey has a uniquely powerful, focused approach to the Matthew Passion. There’s not a moment that doesn’t feel taut with energy. I’m always inspired by the vocal soloists and I know that they are selected with the utmost care. In taking a look through the score and thinking about the “cast,” I can see and hear precisely his thinking … We first heard Agnes Vojtko last summer at the ABS Academy and I know she will sing a most beautiful “Erbarme dich,” I love Jay Carter’s expressive yet crystalline countertenor which will cut all the right corners in “Können Thränen,” and Bill Sharp is just about the most wonderful Jesus there is. I’m also very much looking forward to hearing and working with Hélène Brunet for the first time (we’ll see what special magic she brings to “Aus liebe!”)

What is it like performing this work from the oboe chair in the orchestra?

St. Matthew is a gold mine for the oboist—so many arias—yet so many fast switches! Pace yourself! 😉

What are some aspects of the piece that ABS concertgoers might listen for or be aware of when they hear Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the end of this month? 

In my lecture, I will talk about (and draw the listeners’ ears towards) the accompanied recitatives (especially those preceding the arias). Often, I think when we think about the Matthew, we’re focused on our narrator/Evangelist, the symmetry created by the big opening, closing and interior choruses, and of course some of those famous arias – “Erbarme dich,” “Ich will bei meinem Jesu,” “Mache dich,” etc. But I find the many accompanied recits in the St. Matthew Passion remarkable (and not just those for Jesus!). In Baroque opera, accompanied recit was used sparingly to create the most heightened emotional content in the work. We’ll consider the rhetoric of Bach’s accompanied recits in the St. Matthew, which use a very wide range of orchestrations and effects (from 2 oboes da caccia and a pair of recorders, to flutes with gamba, etc.).

 ST MATTHEW PASSION TICKETS

Debra Nagy’s pre-concert lectures will occur in each venue, one-hour before the performances begin. For more information about St. Matthew Passion or to purchase tickets, please visit our website or call the ABS Office at (415) 621-7900.